5 stages of the coffee growing process that will surprise you!

5 stages of the coffee growing process that will surprise you!

February 18, 2021

Farm to Cup, the journey is long and strenuous but you'll understand why we work to support the farmers.

Coffee goes through an extensive process from farm to cup, the majority being at origin (in the country it’s grown in). I often say coffee farmers do the majority of the work and as coffee roasters we bring coffee into that last stage to enjoy before it’s brewed! 

Coffee farmers are the hero of the industry and I’m going to share with you why. 

 1. Coffee grows on trees

Did you know it takes approximately 3 years for newly planted coffee bushes to bear fruit? The fruit, commonly termed cherries, depending on the degree of ripeness, turn from green to bright or dark red – the unripe ones being green in colour. Coffee cherries are delicate and difficult to harvest due to the mountainous regions they grow in. This requires coffee pickers to hand pick the coffee, picking by hand also allows only the ripe cherries are picked. Hand-picking is a hard and labour intensive process where people need to carefully check cherries for ripeness and, naturally, it involves paid labour. 

I’ve personally picked coffee on many occasions, and our farmers always “fire” me because I’m slow and pick only a fraction of what’s required in an hour. 

The coffee harvested at the beginning and end of the season has a poorly developed flavour, while the pick from the middle of the season has the best flavour. Good roasters buy their coffee during mid-season.


Coffee cherries then go through one of multiple processing methods: the Dry Method, Wet Method, honey processed etc. 


2. Processing the Cherries


female coffee farmer, natural, wet, honey process coffee

After harvesting, cherries are processed as soon as possible to avoid spoilage. Depending on available resources and location, one of the following methods is used.


The Dry Method, also known as a “Natural Process” has been used for centuries and is popular in countries with limited water resources. Coffee cherries are spread out across large surfaces to dry naturally and are routinely raked throughout the day to prevent any fruit from spoiling. They are then covered at night or in the event of rain to prevent the cherries from getting wet. This process can take several weeks to complete, and is very difficult to execute well. 



The Wet Method

The Wet Method involves removing the pulp from the coffee cherry through a pulping machine to separate the bean from the pulp and skin of the cherry. Beans are then passed through water channels and rotating drums where they are separated by weight and size, respectively.


From there, the beans are then placed into fermentation tanks filled with water. Often coffee farmers can not afford fermentation tanks and use whatever means necessary for this piece of the process. Often a hole in the ground will have to work, if that’s all their resources allow for. 


Once the fermentation process is complete and the beans are rough to touch, they begin the drying process!

Time for a suntan… I mean drying time. 

coffee drying Guatemala coffee farm


Drying beans that have been through the wet method can be done by spreading them out like the Dry Method, or by machine-drying in tumblers.


After the coffee beans are separated from the cherries, they are hulled to remove all external layers that are no longer needed. The beans are then graded and sorted based on size and weight and are closely inspected for other imperfections or flaws.


The bean inspection is often done by both machine and hand, to ensure that only the finest quality of coffee beans get exported.

coffee drying process, honey, wet and natural process

Sweet like Honey. 

The honey process is one of the newer coffee processes in the coffee industry. This is a mix between the natural and the wet process and creates a new product or coffee style all together. The name comes from the sweetness that is left on the coffee bean. 

The honey coffee process is the hardest and most demanding coffee processing method. The processor has to start by pulping the coffee and then spreads it out for drying without any washing to leave part of the pulp. The processor spreads the coffee beans thinly on special drying beds and turns them after every one hour for 10-15 days to gain the needed stability. 

Honey processing does not involve any honey. The honey has to do with the amount of mucilage the processor leaves on the coffee parchment. The more mucilage the processor leaves, the more honey the coffee will have. 


3. Coffee goes down for a nap, time for a rest

Whichever way the coffee is processed and dried, after it will still have a layer on it called “parchment”. This outer layer will need to be removed, but not before the coffee goes down for a long nap. 

After processing, The coffee it packaged up into large sacks and laid to rest in a warehouse. The coffee bean should remain in parchment for 30-90 days, with the ideal time depending on many factors. This period is called resting, or as the farmers call it  “reposa”. The parchment helps protect the coffee bean from unwanted flavors and inconsistent moisture while the cell structure strengthens.


4. Coffee milling, time to strip down

Before coffee is able to be exported from its country of origin it must be milled.

The dried coffee beans must go through a “hulling process”. Hulling parchment coffee involves removing the dried husk. Followed by polishing the coffee, not all farmers polish their coffee, but it adds to the quality of the bean. Polished beans are considered to be of a higher quality than unpolished ones.

Quality, Quality. Quality. 

Q-Grading: Coffee is graded on a scale of 100, and within there are 2 main categories. 

  1. Commercial grade, which is 60-80 points, this is your lower end Nabob, Tim Hortons, Dunkin Donuts, etc. 
  2. Speciality Coffee, which is 80-100. This is coffee you will typically find in a 3rd wave coffee shop, including brands such as Stumptown, Monogram, and of course Road Coffee. 

The coffee beans are sorted and graded based on size and weight. The polished beans are also checked for colour inconsistencies and other flaws with human hands being used to remove any flawed beans. The process is painstaking, tedious and can take hours. The beans are sized by putting them through a series of screens with holes that only allow a certain size of beans to pass through. The sizing takes place on a scale of one to ten. At the end of the milling process, only the finest beans are packaged for sale to the high-end markets (speciality coffee). In some countries the lower quality beans are not discarded; instead they are taken for processing and sold as low-quality coffee (commercial)

5. Cupping? This is how we do it! 

coffee cupping, quality control, tastes good

The packed coffee is repeatedly tasted to additionally check and define its taste and quality. The process is called cupping and it takes place in a special room designed to enhance it. Tasting helps people to tell where the coffee is from, process, and tasting notes. The process shouldn’t intimidate you; anyone can take part in it. Though it will look a bit strange the first time you see it! 

It involves slurping coffee to the back of your mouth and identifying which flavour it is. The process is quite similar to wine or whiskey tastings. This process is vital to our industry and happens from farmers, to roasters! The Cupping process allows us to determine not only the quality of coffee but also the price. Even through this often doesn’t reflect the price the coffee is sold at, it shows us what the coffee’s value and what it “should” be sold at. 

Bon Voyage! 

Now the coffee is ready to make its long voyage from its country of origin to around the world to importers and roasters. This is where Road Coffee gets to take coffee through the process of roasting. Bringing you the highest quality coffee from a farmer’s hand to your cup, and invested back in their land. Enjoy Canada’s best coffee subscription knowing a bit more of the journey the coffee goes through to get to your destination!


Author Alisha Esmail